A clear pastel blue sky and bright sunlight held hands and bowed to announce the arrival, finally, of spring in Quebec. It was a perfect Saturday morning. I woke last of all to find the kitchen humming with activity and billowing the smell of pork sausages, fried thick-cut ham, scrambled eggs, orange juice, fruit salad, yogurt, and warm buttered toast. To this marvelous bouquet of aromas I was soon to add the union of freshly ground espresso beans and boiling water, pressed into frothy warm milk to make a strong but smooth cappuccino; the crowning capstone of any morning feast.
The table groaned happily under the heft of this hearty home-cooked breakfast. Gathered around were our three children, ages 8, 6, and 3, just coming in from playing outside in their pyjamas and bringing with them the unmistakable smell of spring; the smell of growing, greening, and gathering warmth.
It is the most fitting thing in the world for such undeserved blessing to flower into words of gratefulness and thanks. We held hands and addressed the great Giver together.
Perhaps it was the height of the goodness and pleasure of this meal that made the subsequent conversation so striking in contrast. Not that the conversation was bad and painful, but simply unexpected in such a time and place. For we are, if nothing else, a simply orthodox Christian family, affirming and holding dear what almost all Christians throughout almost all ages have believed. It was thus a great shock and surprise to find ourselves, in a few short minutes from the start of our feast, engaged in what I can only call a good-humored heresy trial.
Now let me hasten to explain lest your mind be filled with visions of thumbscrews, racks, and gallows. While we denounce the use of force or violence or any external means to inculcate what we might be convinced are good and right beliefs, we are nonetheless unusual among our contemporaries for believing firmly that one’s beliefs are important.
The madness of the original heresy trials is the madness of the man who strikes and swears at the ground for growing poison ivy instead of tomatoes and cucumbers. It takes a seed, good earth, sunlight, and water – in other words: something like a miracle – to grow a vegetable, and a faith is a lot like a vegetable.
Anyways, it began like this.
“Jackson called Emma a dummy this morning,” was the opening salvo from our middle child, Addie. Our children have a bit of a tendency to tell on each other.
Frowns gathered like storm clouds on the faces of the accused and the parents.
“Jackson, is that true?”
“Yes,” he answered after a pause.
My wife Kaitlyn, ever conscious of the power of hurtful words to wound the heart and mind of a child, calmly reproached our eldest child for speaking in this way towards his littlest sister.
An uneasy silence settled over the table after this.
“Emma said she was the best person in the whole world, even better than God. That’s why he said it.” It was Addie again.
This new and unexpected charge seemed to turn the whole situation on its head. The accused and the defendant switched places like dancers in a jig. Kaitlyn and I both turned open-mouthed and amazed towards our youngest daughter, who is so cute that it really makes it harder to parent well. Perhaps not unlike how the rich sometimes seem to have an easier time in the justice system. Emma sat there mute but calculating, evaluating her situation with a speed and insightfulness that only parents of young children would believe possible in a three year old.
“Emma? Did you say that?” I asked slowly.
“No! I didn’t say that!” she answered defiantly, with stony indignation chiseled upon her face.
“Well you are a dummy if you said that,” said Kaitlyn, with a kind of acknowledgement that her earlier chastising of Jackson’s words were not quite applicable in light of this new information.
I sat in thoughtful silence for a moment, considering the claim. Could my adorable daughter, the very delight of my heart, be capable of – what else to call it? – this diabolical thought? For who else but the great serpent himself would say such a thing? Had we been too easy on her, as it is so easy to be with your youngest child? Especially one as cute as she is.
“Well,” started Jackson, “she said she was the best person in the whole world, and I said ‘No way, you’re not better than God. He is the best person.” He paused. “So that’s why I said that.”
“Well that’s kind of different, isn’t it?” I said, realizing now the string and sequence of events that had led us here. The usual trio of misunderstanding, misquoting, and assuming the worst.
“Jackson,” I said, “you shouldn’t assume you know what Emma meant when she said that. And Addie, you were wrong about what Emma actually said.”
“Oh, well, I don’t know. I wasn’t actually there,” admitted Addie with a shrug and a flash of her gap-toothed smile.
It was with some relief that we realized our Emma was innocent of that awful blasphemy, and guilty only of vanity and pride. Her with all of humanity for company.
The sun rose higher into the sky and gave us what we unanimously agreed was the best day of the year so far. And I for one am glad that we don’t have heresy trials anymore. Or at least that they haven’t made a complete comeback just yet.